Louisa Gross Horwitz Prize - 2011
Michael Young, Ph.D.
Richard and Jeanne Fisher Professor and
Head, Laboratory of Genetics
Vice President for Academic Affairs
The Rockefeller University
Michael Young is Richard and Jeanne Fisher Professor and Head of the Laboratory of Genetics at The Rockefeller University. He is also the University’s Vice-President for Academic Affairs. Young received a B.A. in biology in 1971 and a Ph.D. in genetics in 1975, both from The University of Texas, Austin. His graduate work, with Burke Judd, examined gene sizes and distributions in the chromosomes of Drosophila. He moved to Rockefeller in 1978, following postdoctoral work on transposable elements with David Hogness in the Department of Biochemistry, Stanford University School of Medicine. Young is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and a Fellow of the American Academy of Microbiology. Along with colleagues Jeffrey Hall and Michael Rosbash, he received the 2009 Neuroscience Prize of the Peter and Patricia Gruber Foundation for discoveries of molecular mechanisms that control circadian (daily) rhythms.
Young has used the fruit fly, Drosophila for his studies of the circadian clock. The clock gene period, was first cloned by Young, and screens in his laboratory have identified five additional genes that are each essential for production of circadian rhythms. Interactions among these genes, and their proteins, contribute to a network of molecular oscillations within single cells. Young’s discovery and characterization of timeless showed that it permits movement of the transcription factor Period to the nucleus only at night, establishing daily rhythms of period, timeless and other gene activities within the clock. Timeless was also found to be a light-sensitive protein, explaining how circadian rhythms entrain to environmental cycles. Young’s studies of the clock genes double-time and shaggy, casein kinase 1 and GSK-3 orthologs respectively, showed these affect the period length of the rhythm by controlling phosphorylation and stability of Period and Timeless. Later work by others has recognized most of the clock genes discovered by Young and his colleagues in the circadian pathways of vertebrates, including humans.